Wednesday, December 25, 2013


grow where you're planted. 

you are a new seed. despite your years.

grow, they say. here. where you are. now. 

reach up and up. stretch over there. now over that way. 

face the sun. arms open: take what's yours: the moment.

grow here and now. all the tomorrows will thank you. (believe that, against your will if you must.)

if you must, climb the nearest mountain and scream MORE!

and let anyone resent you for it.

cry if you must.

let them not understand. or misunderstand. or tire of you if they must.


until you're hoarse. 

descend the mountain: all is not the same. even though it seems so.

prune yourself, you weed! it's up to you. 

pluck away the withered days. the weight.

let things fall away, too. keepsakes? not for your sake.

put aside a few shes and hes and thems. if you'll be still, the choice will choose itself.

don't forget: you're growing! here. now.

down and down and beyond, your roots will explore the earth where it's cool and damp. 

your roots know the way: listen.

don't forget: the sun. yours for the taking. 

grow, planted seed. be the miracle you are.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

i'm dreaming of a fight christmas.

that title is stretching it. on purpose. because i like the way it sounds. sometimes the sound of words is better than the meaning. <—that's why onomatopoeia is so neato.

i'm not interested in engaging in fisticuffs with anyone. this doesn't mean i'm full of free love for all. there is a very, very small list of undesirables, my distaste for whom is like snot: even after you think you've rid yourself of it, it reappears, and no matter how hard you try to blow it off it keeps coming back. if i'm a pugilist at all, my weapon is words. i throw not curse-laden punches but insightful jabs. and an indiscriminate warrior at that: i'll word-fight anyone, from the foul-mouthed, pre-teen mom-phenomena teen mom spitting profanities at her small child outside the mall; to the napoleon-complex-having guy insulting the overworked cashier at the deli; to myself (which could involve me cursing, for example, my moronic belief that i can do anything, because the mirror doesn't lie: i cannot cut hair). 

i'm a mom. i'm unmarried. i do not live with a man. unless you count my dad. yes, i'm 37 and living with the parents. i'm almost like that demographic you hear about on the news—those late-blooming crazy kids trying to figure life out at a pace much slower than generations before them—except not really because i'm a decade older than those 20-somethings. i never thought i'd be a decade older than anybody worth talking about. and then time ran past me, giggling maniacally while plastering its hand across the width of my face, screeching "FACE THE MUSIC!" the way my brother did when we were kids. so it seems i'm part of a yet-to-be-labeled demographic: the late-30s single mom who had it together and then had to de-awesome her life because of circumstances (whose ouch factor surpassed that of the evening i was dressed up and feeling like hot stuff walking toward the house of an ex-boyfriend, only to slam face-first into his glass door).

the flip side of the above flip-you-the-finger stuff is this: i was gifted a miraculous little boy. he's not even two and can spell his name, count to ten, and sing the alphabet (fyi: i rewrote that phrase from "spell his abcs" because occasionally typing in all lowercase presents me with a grammatical quandary). his off-key singing is better than anything— even cupcakes and pizza. he gives huggies and kissies with a generosity that i hope is a precursor to the sweet man he'll become. he's bestowed with impressive equanimity—with one exception: BEDTIME. not every night. just some nights.

it goes like this: we read a book in the rocking chair (like every night); i carry him to bed (like every night); he lies down quietly (like every night); and shortly thereafter he transforms into an inconsolable banshee who cannot be picked up or moved against his will because the distress of being touched at such a fragile time apparently renders his joints immobile, thus he must be allowed to continue his tearful, high-decibel tirade until some inestimable moment arrives, at which i hold him until he falls asleep. then i return him to his bed, where i realize that his sheets must contain acid—either of the skin-incinerating or psychotropic variety, both of which would elicit a similar response—because upon touching them he immediately awakens into full-on banshee insanity again.

at this point, i continue to try to hold him despite his again-immobile joints; i try to sit next to him, despite my inclination to be anywhere but; i try to talk to him, despite his acute-onset inability to hear or speak words; and i walk out of the room for a breather, despite my mother in the background saying i'm too inflexible (huh? i think i'm being pretty darn flexible, considering i'm trying to calm down a child who must've ingested a case of red bull and an 8-ball while i wasn't looking) and that i should cherish moments with him because they'll go by too quickly. (a parenthetical aside doesn't nearly do justice to what i'm about to say, so commit it to memory like it's the name of a new starbucks drink or imagine it being tattooed on the inside of your eyelids: when a person is in a stressful situation, the last thing you should do is tell them they should enjoy it.) of course, my mom is just being meemaw. she can't help herself. in her world, grandsons never turn into screaming banshees, and if they do, it's because their mammas have been parenting a la mommy dearest when not under the watchful eyes of meemaws. in her world, grandsons should be rocked to sleep by their mammas until their wives threaten to divorce them. in her world, the fatigue of single motherhood must cease to exist in the most inopportune moments, like when sleep, thus sanity, is at stake.

then again, who am i to have any emotions? like one of my friends' oblique remarks indicated, i could've prevented this whole single motherhood thing (how friendly of that friend, right?). by not having premarital sex, i assume. if you've ever had premarital sex, raise your hand. now, dip it in raw meat drippings and wave it in front of a rabid, starving dog. someone will rescue your appendage from cujo once you realize your judgment is flawed, cause hey: when you were getting it on, you were THIS CLOSE to becoming a parent. even if you used protection. ain't nothin' foolproof but abstinence, kiddos. so remember your manners when assessing the lives of people you are not.

by the way: i'm not complaining. i'm describing. there is a difference, and if you can't discern it, raise your hand. that rabid dog is still hungry.

psst! listen: fighting is counterproductive. i just want to talk like i want to fight. because i like the way the words sound. like onomatopoeia, the sound is indirectly related to the thing it describes. that "thing" being certain aspects of parenting alone. and what is that like? it's hard. like walking barefoot on gravel (which i did last summer, in the spirit of revisiting my childhood, only to realize it hurts a lot). and it's alternately soft. like a baby's fat, pillow-y lips. and sweet as the honeysuckle you sucked straight from the flower as a kid. and worth it.

you know what? i am sincerely dreaming of a white christmas. a heaping layer of fluffy snow is a cure-all. at least for a day—and isn't that the dose by which we're supposed to take life?

happy holidays, you jerks.

huggies and kissies,

mamma d.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

under-stimulated; over-rained.

this blog is accompanied by my second cup of decaf today. my desire to drink decaf is never wavering, thus proof that a taste for coffee is the draw; caffeine is merely an option—and one not worth the THUMPTHUMPTHUMPETYSKIPTHUMPTHUMPETYSKIP of my arrhythmic heart. i do suspect my heart—much like my dog, according to the trainer, and my hair, according to the piles of it in the bathtub and everywhere else—reacts to my stress levels. i close my eyes and imagine myself unwinding, literally. spinning away the sticky, threadbare layers of ick and then being the purest form of me that ever was since birth. or since the last time life was butter-smooth, which was around 15 years ago.

in bed the other night i thought of my travels from the age of 18 to 36: sitting next to the cheese-wheel wielding hare krishna on the train to portland; next to the mike tyson lookalike on the bus from nyc to wv; next to my boss from the modeling agency in my convertible with the duct-taped slash on the way to nyc from miami; next to no one as i smiled for marcie snapping my photo before i boarded the plane back to wv from pensacola, fl; next to my part-pit bull copilot, kaiser, on the way to our first night living in memphis, tn.; next to various space-invading strangers on the l train from the upper east side to a stop somewhere on the lower east side a short walk from gansevoort street.

i do much more traveling in my mind than i do on turf. i'm in contingent acceptance of that. as in, it's okay for now, assuming i'll make it happen one day. as a rule (of being me), the latter is always assumed. i believe i'll make it (in its manifold forms) happen even when no one else does. an alchemist of circumstance, i am. my believing, however, doesn't come without a hefty lot of lamenting, pondering, and occasional outright despair—but those are just coughs and sneezes. they ought not be suppressed. because where do suppressed sneezes and coughs go? shoved up somewhere in your brain, i'd guess. infiltrating all your pleasant thoughts with their bacteria-laden yuck. i will never suppress one again<—call it an experiment in How To Increase The Happy. overall, i'm a creature of faith. i believe in belief. belief is like time: unstoppable.

i am, too, a creature of inspiration, the dearth of which in my current surroundings leads me to upcycle former muses. and why was i thinking of travel? my desire to leave, i guess. a natural reaction to the downside of the upside of the past two months. for weeks, my life was the sound of an old typewriter: clinkclinkclinckclinkclinkCHING. repeat. i was busy. a single mom-writer-editor-sorta runner-dog trainer-in-training. making it happen. freelancing, in my experience, has a life cycle that repeats itself over and over. and so this month it grew from vibrant youth to sluggish middle age. and so i wait, ever so impatiently, for the golden years. and in my sky-high threshold of hope, i endeavor to eventually find the freelancer fountain of youth. or some assurance of continued flow. movement. progress.

the clouds are inconsolable. decaf is cold, old. thoughts are warm. child is soon to awaken. hugs and kisses are free. travels on the calendar marked "one day" ...

Friday, October 25, 2013

fiercely ever after.

i put my son in bed with me last night. my conscious mind told me it was so i could be close to him in case he needed me. my subconscious knew it was the other way around—that it was i who needed him. in the deep and narrow folds of my brain, the truth of today was there. i slept, poorly, with it all night.

i hoped i would wake up and phaedra would be gone. i wanted her to die in her sleep so i wouldn't have to make them kill her today. but she didn't die. and in a few hours, she will be gone. it will be the end of an era. she and kaiser both will be gone. and nothing will ever be the same.

my boss at the blue moose cafe, molly, found phaedra running around her neighborhood in 2001. as soon as i saw that black-and-white baby come around the corner of the counter that afternoon, wiggling all the way, i knew she'd be mine. and so she was.

kaiser was two. he and phaedra took to each other immediately, as if they had been waiting for each other, and for me, all along. we lived in a basement apartment on willowdale road. it was nicer than your average basement dwelling. considering many of the rental pits in morgantown, it was nice, period.

the landlord, fran, wasn't happy about my new addition. it wasn't a pit bull issue for her but an issue of two dogs and a college kid living in her property. i had taken good care of the place thus far with one dog, and fran had met my dad—and meeting my dad can't be anything but a plus—so maybe that's why she gave in to my pleas to let phaedra stay. and so she did.

my parents weren't pleased with the news, either. another creature to care for was not a good idea, they said. this was an obvious fact, but pragmatism had never been my thing and certainly wasn't on the agenda the day i met my girl. on the day my mom first met phaedra, she had come to town to take my grandma for an appointment and said she'd meet me downtown. when she pulled up at the curb, i walked to greet her with my baby dog on my hip. that's how i carried phaedra in the early days. she didn't seem to mind at all.

phaedra went into heat before i could get her spayed, so off to the pet store i went to figure out what a person does about that sort of thing. at the exotic jungle pet store, i bought her a box of feminine products for dogs and a frilly pair of red-and-white checkered panties to wear on top.

during that period, phaedra's period, that is, kaiser went half-crazy. he wanted nothing in the world—not food nor treats nor my affection—more than he wanted that pretty baby girl-dog in the frilly, checkered panties. i barricaded him in the kitchen and he turned into a woodchuck with a taste for the corner of the farthest cabinet on the left. i couldn't have accounted for a dog-in-heat situation, so i didn't put that incident under the category of Reasons Fran the Landlord Would Say I Told You So. in the days before i moved out, dad had come over and worked some magic with wood putty. all was right in the basement before we went on to our next home. and the next one. and the next.

phaedra was a femme fatale true to her name, which i had taken from greek mythology. she was clearly the boss among my two beasts. although burly and stout (all muscle and teeth, according to one of my many landlords), kaiser easily bowed to the girl with the line of black fur that sat like an eyebrow over one eye.

phaedra was such a beauty. stark white except for that eyebrow, two ears, and one eye colored in blackest black. she had a temper, too. never with me. she didn't care for other animals and was occasionally cranky with people. however, contrary to the lore that says pit bulls give no warning, phaedra gave clear notice when she didn't want to be bothered. and she always wanted to be bothered by me. what a love. near me—in my lap, specifically—was her favorite place to be. she'd snuggle right up to me in bed, and unlike my quirky kaiser, she didn't move until morning.

when we moved to memphis, phaedra and kaiser and i lived in a guesthouse fit for a girl my size. it was tiny and brand new, and we made it our home far away from home. the three of us became known around the neighborhood: the new girl and the two scary-looking dogs. "do they bite?" asked a strange stranger one day. "only the right people," i answered.

we made a life in the south. we sat in spots of sun in my yard with spots of grass. walked along the mississippi river. played at the dog park of our dreams at shelby farms. we even babysat two puppies for a whole day; phaedra was nonplussed, but she turned out to set a fine example for the little ones.

shortly after we moved to felix avenue, our little family grew again: along came joker, another pit bull. a foster who became forever. i knew kaiser, in his infinite oblivion, would barely notice another salivating, gaseous canine in his space. to my surprise, my cranky girl welcomed the newcomer without a hitch as well. in those early months of being the owner of not two but now three big dogs, i was a little frazzled. but there was a thought that would tiptoe around the house at night, when i was in bed and prone to hear the slightest sounds: joker will help you through it when they're gone.

 my family of four, plus one in the oven, moved back to west virginia on a july day in 2011.

not a year later, kaiser would die of lung cancer. another year and a half later, today will bid goodbye to the last of the two companions who saw me through a decade and then some. when phaedra fades away, so will an era of my life.

it's 3:36 p.m. phaedra and i have only 39 minutes left together.

on the way to the vet, phaedra barked at strangers from the window of the car. as old and sick as she was, her voice was yet distinct. short and dense like the thud of a kick drum; round like every bark was accompanied by a mouth full of air.

when the vet said cancer two years ago, the countdown began. how many weeks would i have with her? and then the weeks turned into months. ever so slowly, she grew weaker. never too weak to lose her fire. she fought illness with the fierceness that was phaedra. at the vet this afternoon, the fire was still there. just not enough.

it's 6:11 p.m. my phaedra won't know tomorrow.

next to the hole kaiser left in my heart, another one grows.

goodnight, meanie pants. fay-fay. my pretty girl. i love you with the fierceness that was you, precious you.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

nyc and me.

"you're a go-getter, kid." that's what nick said. this is when i was 22 and lived in new york city. nick was a friend of a doctor i'd worked for in west virginia and he helped me out when my company kicked me out of my free apartment on the upper east side, at 79th and lexington to be exact, above a restaurant/bar called nick's. i was kicked out because i was quitting my job. i had given them notice. they were not as gracious in return. kicked me out the same day, which, as would follow, exponentially sped up my quitting. they sent the girl from the office — who looked like she had a nasal voice but didn't, who was pale in the face and paler in personality, who used her proximity to fame and beauty and power like a tire pump to inflate her sense of self-importance — to make sure i was getting out NOW. anyhow, i've told this story before.

the point is, nick was right about me.

the other point is, what i'm going and getting isn't easily gotten.

the subpoint is, new york city is one of the many sculptors of my life.

before i lived there, i visited new york city for the first time when i was 20. i wish i could re-feel the feeling of that first moment when i exited the metal bullet and walked up those steps onto the city street and was suddenly, gloriously another tiny bug milling around the floor of the forest of sequoia skyscrapers. a speck among millions of specks. i remember not exactly but close enough what it looked like exiting the subway that day.

a few weeks or a month prior, i can't recall, i'd answered an ad in a  magazine, maybe cosmo, recruiting volunteers for fashion week runway shows. i was selected for the job, but i had to pay my own way. before leaving my little hometown for the big city for the first time, i bought a new tube of grape-colored lipstick from the lancome counter at the meadowbrook mall, with matching eyeshadow, and an all-black outfit, including a pair of clunky black loafers, from mode roman on high street in morgantown. i planned to wear my hair straight, too. curls wouldn't suit the severe style i had in mind.

i recruited my brother and my friend traci to come along. we stayed in new jersey and rode the path (the subway system between jersey and nyc) into the city every day. in 1997, the shows were held at chelsea piers in lower manhattan. the building was cold and stark except for buzz of its temporary inhabitants. when the shows weren't there, i bet those rooms sat severe, barren, and resolutely silent. it was a tight-lipped librarian of a building. i rode an unwelcoming freight elevator to get to my floor. one morning i rode along with a model, who could've been every model: skinny. tall. stringy hair. wearing cool boots and a look of boredom. for some shows i helped with seating out front, and for one show (the designer "ghost," i think) i dressed models backstage. one girl was really nice. i'd remember her name if i heard it again, but i've never heard it again. evidently stardom never found her. one girl was not nice, at all, and later she became fairly famous as a model. life, the great perpetrator of irony.

my brother ended up working for the shows, too, as a greeter. he said regis philbin was a jerk. it didn't matter. as i was living out a fantasy, so was my brother: he found the old haunts of jeff buckley, the musician whose music had reached inside and shaken my brother's soul. he even, by movie-like serendipity, came across a bartender who had been a friend of jeff's. we sat at that bar for hours. it was called 2-A, clearly stating its location at avenue a and second street. a practical name for a bar in a city built on a grid. the drunks could easily find it.

i took the city with me when i left. all the exhilaration i felt from the cacophony and the never-ending everything you could imagine, i kept it like a permanently held breath in my mind. i didn't release that breath when i finally moved to new york city, or when i returned months after leaving to gather my belongings, or when i visited another three times with friends. i'm still holding that breath, savoring it. i might hold it forever.

 there was a go-getting girl in me before i met the city, and she undoubtedly flourished after we met. i used to consider moving to the city again. not now. i want my boy to have a front porch, maybe a back one, too, and a yard. i want him to hear crickets on summer nights. i want his childhood to be a little like mine, because mine was really pure and safe and good. and i want his childhood to be a little unlike mine, because i never went anywhere as a child.

one day i'll take my son to the city. maybe once a year, if we can. we'll eat pastries while walking around the west village. we'll go to museums and central park. he'll sit on my lap in the subway car. i'll take him to the city so he can see why being one tiny speck among millions is motivating, even when it's exasperating. i'll tell him that go-getting doesn't mean you always get what you want when you want it. i'll tell him to be a bit more careful than his mother but not so careful that he never experiences the thrill of taking a leap without looking. i'll tell him the absolute wonderfulness and the utter awfulness of it all.

thank you, you crowded, cold, rude, incorrigible island. i look forward to seeing you again.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

the art of shutting up.

last night i dreamed. my dreams are almost exclusively about people from my past. a few days ago it was an ex, promising me great love in the future but not giving it to me in the present. i remember feeling, mid-dream, hopeful, yet wary. hopeful, yet wary. there should be theme music playing as i type ...

last night, it was a girl. in my dream, we were in a restaurant. a small, comfortable place. the only colors were burgundy and off-white. we sat at a round table, she and i and some female members of my family. she wore a constant snarl, one that spoke the unspeakable malevolence that is seething inside her, every day. in real life, not just in my dreams. her nose was bigger and uglier than usual. we argued. my family and i left, then went for cupcakes at a bright, cheerful bakery. strife, then cupcakes.

my dreams, like their owner, aren't hard to read. am i hard to read? some people say so. they don't know me up close. and of the people who know me up close, how many read me well? not many. most skim the pages. i admit, the text of my life does get a bit wordy at times. talk is not always cheap, but it takes that route on occasion.

i've resolved many times to stop talking. this, a result of leaving too many conversations feeling like i was presenting a thesis defense. the thesis titled the ways and means of dee. i need to be more a follower of my own resolutions. i know this: the more you talk, the more convoluted simple concepts become. i follow my instincts. i am not wrong for doing so. these are simple concepts. i find enormous irony in the fact that "sacrifice to get what you want" is upheld as a virtue, yet there are apparently conditions as to what is an acceptable sacrifice. i stay where i am presently, where i don't want to be, with the goal of building a future for my son and me that includes more than shelter and food and clothing: a future with as much peace as i can possibly wrangle. the by-product of sacrifice? i have a happy little boy. i have a precociously intelligent toddler who sometimes cries but never screams and whose "tantrums" over anything last plus or minus 20 seconds. i'm proud of him. proud of me and grateful to my parents, who are also sacrificing, for being part of why he is such a well-adjusted boy. sacrifice, then peace. 

this has struck me lately: it's hard to like up close. the more you get to know someone, the more liking them becomes effort. an unpleasant statement? true nonetheless. we think unconditional love is the thing. the ultimate. it's not. loving unconditionally is a natural inclination (for most of us). liking, however, has conditions. if it didn't, we would like everyone. we do not. we cannot. liking requires tolerance and acceptance of that to which we may not relate and that which we cannot change. these skills of interpersonal harmony aren't easily had. sometimes, they can't be had at all. bonds are broken and bridges are burned. other times, we learn to be better navigators—both of our own inner pathways and of those connecting us to others.

distance can be a great healer. limited communication can, too. even better is assessing boundaries early on, though you may not recognize your boundaries until they've been encroached upon. for me, it's utterly bewildering to decide where to place people within the many circles—concentric if they were to be drawn with a sharpie—making up the interpersonal boundaries of my life. i find myself positioning and repositioning people frequently, be it through action or thought. i would be terrible at chess. or a genius?

this morning on facebook a friend posted this, from an unknown source: be careful whom you let in, and think twice before you let go. sound advice from the internet sages.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

the way.

"wherever you go, there you are." i've thought about this phrase so much over the years, and i've always come to the same conclusion: it's not entirely true.

it's partly true, yes, because your troubles will always follow you. it's partly untrue, too, because your surroundings can directly improve your sense of well-being. place is not a cure-all; when i move again all will not be perfect—but i'm certain it will be better, and better is a step toward even better. cure-alls don't exist, and that goes for the supposed cure-all of finding "happiness within." <— another  aphorism that confounds the person trying desperately to find a place of peace. that we should possess the ability to dig deep within our brains and come up with a handful of happiness that we've otherwise failed at finding through other means is an enormous pressure, and one that ends up making a peace-searcher feeling defeated and inept.

happiness, contentedness, peace—whatever you choose to call it—isn't something you can simply will yourself to have; in fact, having it is a job, one you have to work at on many different levels, both internal and external. if i believe that a little piece of my peace lies in living somewhere that offers me a pretty body of water to walk alongside, then i shouldn't punish myself for longing for something i know can help. wherever i go, there i am? not entirely. some places i've gone have helped me navigate the trials of life better than others. that's real. i experienced it. and it means place does have a place in the overall picture of a person's well-being. place isn't everything, but it's something.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, think carefully how you respond. unless the person is being highly unreasonable (e.g., "i have everything i could ever want except for this terrible, horrible, life-altering hangnail!"), LET THEM FEEL HOW THEY'RE FEELING. please. please, do that. please do not tell them how it could be worse or how they should appreciate what they already have, because, odds are, they've already thought of those things many times—and accordingly felt like a jerk for not feeling at peace even though they have their health, a loving family, and a roof over their heads. h-c-p (happiness-contentedness-peace) is not a right, it's a privilege, one we all have to endeavor to achieve, and one we all work toward in ways specific to our nature. some people (me, along with some of you reading this) aren't practical; we don't function at our best when leading the traditional life that tradition tells us to live; we know what's right when we see it, or, more importantly, when we feel it. we're sense-creatures.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, don't contradict them. don't tell them their feelings could change if they would just look at life from a new perspective. odds are, they've tried to turn the wheel of the perspective kaleidoscope and then felt utterly disappointed when the view felt ... wrong, somehow wrong in that way that only the beholder can understand. stop telling them that they're "not different." they are different: they're different from you. and that's all that counts. i think sometimes people are opposed to accepting someone else's uniqueness because that uniqueness acts as a highlighter to their qualities which might not fall under the category of "unique," thus leaving them feeling like a coat of flat paint. in that case, hear this: nothing is unique. not really. one girl's uniqueness is another girl's normal.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, don't tell them that the things they oppose could actually be good for them if they'd try harder. odds are, they've tried pretty damn hard and then felt bewildered by the fact that wanting something their heart doesn't desire isn't, in fact, good for them. let them be who they are. let them take the journey their way, the end of which might find them somewhere they never thought possible or probable, somewhere that might be close to the place you were trying to lead them back when they weren't listening. if that happens, don't say "i told you so." know that they could only get to that place through their own trial and error. try your best to give gentle advice and suggestions based upon who they are and how they're feeling, not upon who you are and how you think or wish they'd feel.

i can envision some people reading this and thinking, "wow. she's not very appreciative of people caring enough to offer their thoughts." not true. i appreciate thoughts. in fact, i thoroughly enjoy hearing other peoples' perspectives, but the painful truth is that some people are better at offering perspective than others. some people just are. and it's those people whose support, through circumstances they might not agree with or understand, helps the h-c-p seeker along her way—that way always, inevitably longer and harder than if she could just manage to exist solely on appreciating what she has in the present, have goals that don't resemble the ones she's had for a decade+,  become less whimsical, give in to the pressures of circumstance that would have her become who she's never been in the deepest folds of her ever-busy brain.

i'd like to invent a new phrase, and i hope it'll take hold. go viral, if you will. "wherever you are, there you go." every point and place in life is a point and place to move forward from, if that's what you desire and if that's what you're apt to do as a result of being uniquely you. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. don't change. don't put a pillow over your heart, hoping to smother its screams that are urging you to do what feels MOST LIKE YOU (unless, of course, what feels most like you is eating human flesh or kicking puppies. in that case, i hope you're not reading this blog). and if you're dealing with a person who's a perpetual wonderer-wanderer, LET THEM BE WHO THEY ARE. if you care enough for your relationship with them, carefully weigh your responses. try to put more of them—and less of you—into your discourse. that's not an easy task, i know. i fail at it, though i'm failing less with time and awareness. being a careful listener and a thoughtful adviser is work. so put forth the effort it takes to cultivate an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. remember that if someone believes in their gifts and goals and gut—that's precious. you don't have to agree with their decisions and, unless those decisions are utterly heinous, you can wish all day long, silently, that they'd try another way. odds are, however, they have tried and then felt a void. maybe one day they'll try again and it'll feel less void-y. you never know. so remember that: YOU can never know.

we can all use a little help being a better self and finding our h-c-p. help is everywhere: it's within. it's also in a walk by a river. in a good cup of coffee at a shop frequented by interesting strangers. in watching a dog play joyously with his new toy in his own grassy yard. in a child being raised by a parent who's thriving. in a good listener. in writing.

here's to finding it, in whatever way fits you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

after-love letter.

i spent last week beside the ocean with my son and my boyfriend. i slept every warm night allowing the air-conditioning to escape through the open sliding-glass door so i could hear the water's soft roar. i sat every afternoon—for who knows how long because the peaceful feeling was near-meditative—in the shallowest end of the tide, dropping wet sand through my fingers while my son scooped and piled more of it into his bucket. i ran in the mornings on the hard-packed sand, with my son in his stroller contentedly, silently staring out at the ocean. we're at peace with the water, my boy and i.

last night, not many days after the water and i parted ways, love and i parted ways, too. again. i've had so many agains. i've counted and recalled them many times over the years. are they failures? or aborted attempts? a little of both. endings, all the same.

how did i grow into this woman who has such trouble giving and receiving love? i certainly wasn't raised that way. i also wasn't raised to be brave enough to move away on my own, to choose a career path with no certain destination, to be okay without a man, to become a single mom determined to hold onto her dreams rather than give in to the pressures of conceding to circumstance. i'm not sure how i, a product of a traditional, conservative, semi-sheltered upbringing, came to be such a contradiction to my roots. in some ways, that is. from my parents i've inherited an unsurpassed example of giving to others. i haven't carried on that example to the degree that i'd like, but i've had my moments over the years and hope that i've made a positive impact on others' lives, whether it lasted a few hours, a couple years, or a lifetime.

right now, i'm back to the deepest trenches of being me. doing-everything-the-hard-way me. i could've stayed. with him. the man who has treated me and my son with more respect and love than i ever fathomed was possible. he could've stayed, too. with me. the creative, moody, unsettled girl whose singularity, he said—although inextricable from her complications—was what he most liked. sometimes, in the middle of nothing at all, i'd crazy-dance in the kitchen at my parents' house and he would smile—that big, beautiful, warm smile of his. isn't it the most massive, insuperable, intolerable problem that love isn't enough?

it isn't enough. i've had love a few times. fleeting, always. here one minute, running for cover the next. love, the frightened deer. only to be admired from afar? so far it seems so. still, even in my inexperience, i know enough of love to know that its role in making a relationship work isn't as simple as its presence or absence. and i'm brave enough to act on that knowledge.

i've lost me in the past two years. i've been looking for her, in the limited ways the resources of this town, my wallet, and motherhood allow. it's been a slow search. and for the past year, i could've rediscovered her as part of an us. i tried, except there's a part of me that still wants to grow freely, to explore the plans i've had for so many years, loosely laid as they were. as much as i'd like to adhere to the admonitions of facebook inspirational posters that tell me to give up the life i've planned and live the life in front of me, i can't. i won't. i refuse to believe that my gut is wrong.

today my heart is a shade lighter, a little drained. in the days, weeks, and months to come, i hope to give it color again. i hope to feel less sorrowful for leaving love behind. i hope he'll remember me fondly, as i will him. no matter where i end up, i'll never forget what it felt like to be adored effortlessly for the very first time. i'll always remember him as the first man who loved my son. and i think, like the two other loves i left behind and have never forgotten, i'll look back on knowing him and not regret a thing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

capping off a decade.

"you're much cuter without the hat." said my mom as i was walking out the door for a movie date with a girlfriend.

psh. or, more accurately, psh in quotation marks, because that was my actual reply.

i don't know if i look particularly cute or un-cute in my hat—more accurately called a cap—but i love it anyway. it has a history. it's a storyteller.

i bought it in '01 at yesterday's news, a vintage store on east carson street in the southside of pittsburgh. i'd drive up there every once in a while and walk up and down the busy street, just to relish the thrill of being somewhere unfamiliar and in a city. i'd browse the crowded racks at yesterday's news and then i'd get coffee at the beehive, which was a few doors up on the same side of east carson. the beehive is one of those places that makes peeing more laborious than it already is when you don't feel like having your daydreaming interrupted by a bodily function: you have to ask the barista for a key, and the barista is always busy. so you have to wait, resenting every long-winded starbucks-esque coffee order in front of you, while all the muscles in your lower body try to reign in your raging bladder, and then you're handed a giant, painted chunk of wood with a key attached to a chain worthy of a junkyard dog. i've yet to decode the presumed sanctity of the coffeehouse bathroom key.

on one of my visits to the southside beehive, a guy with a young son approached me. our conversation could've been brief or long, interesting or not. the guy could have been tall or average, blonde or brunette. all i specifically remember is at the end he asked me out and that, back in morgantown that evening, i wondered about the intricacies of dating a man with a son, even though i already knew i didn't want to date him at all. how very me of me to wonder about things that will never come to pass.

my trips to pittsburgh were always brief. all i was after were a few hundred mouthfuls of the air and a few thousand blinks of the scenery in a different place. after an hour or two, i'd drive another hour and be back in morgantown with a new addition to my wardrobe, which was highly populated with vintage finds from my pittsburgh favorite as well as the vintage and thrift stores in downtown morgantown, all of which died sudden deaths one by one in the years before the city and i parted ways.

the next year, oh two, i wore my vintage cap to a dinner date with my girlfriends ann and ivy. ivy later sent me a photo from that night, of me sitting against the backdrop of exotic wall hangings at asian garden, a local favorite, where i always ordered the vegetarian duck, spicy, please, with a side of fried spring rolls. in the photo, the bill of my newsboy-style cap was snapped, which was the way i wore it back then even though i didn't quite like the way it looked. i was making an austin powers-type face, with my finger up to my lips. my head was tilted to the side of the room where the metal lunch buffet sat forlorn, cold and empty because it was dinner time, and the big white collar of my blue-and-white striped shirt hung like bird wings from the v-neck of my snug, tan sweater. later that evening, the three of us hung out at the apartment on top of the antique store on pleasant street that was only ever lived in by musicians and artists.

in the year oh three, my boyfriend made a charcoal drawing of me in that cap. it had a round, ball-like tassel made of short, thick yarn that snapped to the top. i wore that tassel in the drawing, but in later years i'd remove it. i put it aside to preserve the cap's original state, in an archival sort of way. "archival" being a word plucked straight from the mouth of my charcoal-drawing boyfriend ten years ago when he was describing to me the metal tacks he used for building canvases that would become part of the archives of his work. i like how "archival" is dual purpose: it's the right word to finish my sentence, in that i want my hat to become part of the archives of my life, and also a relic from the year i'm writing about. and where is that tassel now? hopefully stuffed in a bag somewhere among my belongings, which have been taking up most of the space in dad's garage since the evening—two years and sixty-some days ago—i returned from memphis.

memphis is where i wore that cap on the second occasion i was in the presence of a person who has changed my life forever. we were at the p&h cafe, a small, dumpy joint on madison that had photos tacked up everywhere and one of my favorite veggie burgers in town. it was karoake night and a friend's birthday, and a big group of us were celebrating with alcohol and stick-on mustaches. we sat at a long table beside a row of booths, me across from the man who three years later would become the father of my son. he and i barely, if at all, spoke that evening, but i remember thinking how handsome he was and wondering what that night's drama surrounding his much-younger, very recent ex-girlfriend said about a man his age. i was too busy having fun to give it much thought that night, or any night thereafter when he and i began on our path of two years of on-again, off-again dating, the subtext of which would be mostly repulsive in hindsight were it not for the fact of my son. when i look back on that night, i don't get caught up in the details of the pain it foreshadowed. instead, i think about the photo of me with a stick-on mustache stuck to the butt of my cutoff jean shorts, and i remember what a good time i had.

my mom says i'm cuter without my cap. i'll keep on wearing it, because i like its colors. i like that there's a snap on the bill that looks out of place when it's unsnapped, which is the way i wear it these days. i like that it had a history long before the day i picked it off the shelf at the vintage store, and i like that i've given it an even richer history over these ten years. cute or not, my wool storyteller with the absent tassel is a keeper. a piece of the archives of me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

excerpts of me.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
one thing today and another tomorrow
and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

from "characteristics of life" by camille t. dungy.

i'd never heard of her until my friend cj posted the poem, in its entirety, on my facebook wall for my birthday. i've been me for 37 years and 16 days now. i'm not the best me i've ever been; i can look back and see some peaks that are above the valley where the current me resides, perpetually gazing upward (and much less backward these days). i'm on my way back up—and on this sunny wednesday at 3:03 p.m., i have a feeling that this climb will have me higher than ever before.

cj wrote, "here is a poem i thought you would like." i knew it had to be meaningful, because nothing less would come from her. cj is a butterfly, delicate and intricate. elusive and remarkably brilliant. her 49 years haven't touched the sunset in her hair or the freshly shaken sheets of her skin. as i read along, i started to wonder. where was the me she saw in these verses? i couldn't see it, until i reached the stanza i posted above.

oh, wow. she knows about me.

poignant moments are as sparse as the few daffodils i strain to find on the hillside across from our house while walking with my son. since when did daffodils become rare? or is it not rarity but rejection from the clay underearth of this lonesome hillside? its near-barrenness is the emblem of this town that rejects me, too. so i stand with the sparse daffodils, uncertainly rooted yet resilient. it was poignant to realize that my friend cj knows, deeply, a part of me—because i know a similar part resides within her. knowing people happens that way: in pieces. i've figured that out, throughout the past seven years precisely. at best, the most intimate knowledge we'll ever have is of ourselves—and only if we do the work, because self-knowledge isn't a given; it's a process of learning to look at the pieces up close and stepping back to see how they form the whole, and then repeating the process over and over.

the words of the poet camille t. dungy, via the sweet perspicacity of my friend cj, have validated one of my greatest revelations of self-knowledge: i will be as consistent as anything alive on this earth.



as an often-solitary girl from my early 20s through my mid-30s, i've had the time, the space, and the impulse to look at the pieces of me, over and over. they don't fit together neatly at all, and, at 37 years and 18 days old on this rainy friday, i'm more okay with the unresolved angles of me than i was just yesterday.

ask me if i speak for the moon jelly. i will tell you one thing today and another tomorrow. and none of it will be lies. it'll be me knowing more about me than i knew yesterday.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


i'm the reluctant wife of this house lately. the weather has kept me here and still. i'd have an affair with another location if i could. in lieu, this mom is currently cavorting with a tall glass of cranberry juice and a downpour. the rain is unstoppable this summer. it's always unstoppable, literally, but lately its persistence is human-like. she was harmless at first. then pushy. then overbearing. and now, all we see is the rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. the soggy, groggy, infinite rain. 

as i was typing my third or fourth "rain" up there ^, my words and poe's collided in my mind: the rain, rain rain ... the bells, bells, bells. well, hey there, mr. poe. has it been since some numberless english lit class in some nameless hall at wvu that we last met? hmm. not exactly. but it's been at least that long since we've spent hours together. 

i reread "the bells" last night. as poe progressed from curiosity to horror in the bells, i saw a similar progression in this summer's rain. or reign. reign of liquid terror. 

for weeks i've resisted the urge to discuss the misery of this weather. it wouldn't be positive of me, i thought. yet here i am. i didn't intend it. it just happened. at least i'm enjoying it this way, juxtaposing this colorless, pelting, endless rain against the sanguine echo of poe's crescendo. 

the sky has frowned upon clarksburg for the past month. on most days the sun will sneak out from behind the clouds for a bit. the light fills both the sky and me. i inhale it. i open my arms and invite it into my belly and my heart. so when it leaves again, i'll have a little left over. i wish i could say it keeps me full until the next rays break through; it doesn't. as the sunshine fades out of me, and the sky above and the air around become suffused with grayness and the static hum of stagnancy, i am momentarily limp. i carry myself with heavy limbs across this long house, one end to the other, as i go about the hours. waiting. waiting for my sun. 

the best me, she's up in the clouds, like the sun. waiting to come out again. i don't hate this town. i hate its lack. i hate it for what it can't be. i hate that this town, for me, is only a reflection of what it is not. it doesn't resemble life. there are no brunches at jessi's. no skipping rocks at mud island with ellen. no holiday parties with the newest addition to my short list of genuine friends, kristen. no patio dinner dates set ablaze by amanda's incendiary pitch. no laid back hangouts with ruth (it's strange to reminisce of a friendship now gone. i'm not sure what to make of it. except for a time she was dear). no happy, sloppy pit bulls hopping in shallow lakes at shelby farms dog park. no hippie drum circles at neighborhood festivals. no singer-songwriters belting out their hearts' desires in bars and coffee shops and on sidewalks. i miss sidewalks! who knew. here, there are no sidewalks on the edges of quaint shops for evening strolls. no sidewalks, period, in our neighborhood (if one street even qualifies as a neighborhood). there is no pretty riverfront with benches for sitting and looking out across the water and thinking absolutely nothing. anywhere that allows me to think about nothing, if only for a minute or two, is a tiny piece of magnificence. i didn't care much for the mississippi river when i could drive ten minutes to her shore. what's a river you can't jump into, i always said. now that she's gone, i know her worth. 

someone asked me if my son would have fit into my life in memphis. perfectly, yes. if only it were that simple. it's not, and—although my words would make it seem otherwise— i don't want for us to be there. i only look backward because the future is still foggy and the present is ... what it is. my son, he's flourishing. like a field carpeted in wildflowers. he's beautiful and bright. gloriously bright. i want to be bright again, too. i want us to build, with our hands and minds, a new life. it could have bits and pieces of the old. i want friends for my son to know. i want walks in grassy parks and joker to sleep on a pillow in the corner of the living room. i want us to skip rocks across a body of water. all we have here is the west fork river, and it sure doesn't make me want to sit on its shore and think of blissful nothing. 

i think a lot about what isn't. i shouldn't, i know. i used to be such a daydreamer. all my life. i remember doing it even as a kid in grade school. nowadays, my daydreams are damp and deteriorating. i know they'll come back one day. like me. like the sun. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

it's okay, said a stray.

snickers is tugging at my heartstrings. that's not his real name, nor is it what i'd want to call him if he were mine, but his coloring does the naming for me: chocolate and caramel and dirty-white nougat. his disproportionately large ears hang like flapping flags. i want to run them through my fingers, but he won't let me near. he'll come only close enough to snatch up my son's cheese puffs that i throw from the car window. the neighbor, whose hooded eyelids and trampled-grass-with-a-patch-of-wild-weeds hairdo remind me of 90s health guru susan power or perhaps a less severe version of my 7th grade english teacher, mrs. andrick, has been looking out for snickers. her husband says he can't stay. if neighbor lady is anything like her forceful doppelgangers, her wishes will prevail. i hope so. i'm already invested in snickers' fate.

i posted snickers' whereabouts on a few facebook pages, one devoted mostly to the buying and selling of pets. on that page, i later posted some information about the negative aspects of dog breeding. while writing, i noticed a post from a young guy selling his pair of unaltered bull dogs. i felt, literally, in my gut, an urge to reply. the heavens and my guts must've met in the middle, because this thought nudged its way into my consciousness: here's an opportunity to be more like you want to be. and so i was. i typed as if i were shooting a gun filled with flowers: determined, yet with a spirit of cooperation. my hope was to receive, at the least, an equally diplomatic reply, but my gut told me i'd get nothing of the sort. he replied with scorn and said that fixing "good breeding dogs" is animal cruelty in his eyes. score one for my gut. it's like when i was a waitress at a steakhouse: i knew who wanted pittsburgh rare or well done before they even ordered.

"so, what's your goal for being happy?" asked a girl i barely know. goals. i have them, although that beeline i'm supposed to take to get to them is confining. boring? prescribed. and a misnomer: bees don't fly in straight lines. they hover. they zigzag. i am more bee than beeline.

yesterday i read an article in science daily about a study that revealed depressed people tend to have non-specific goals. it said that people who set specific goals are more likely to be successful. science is apparently on the side of the non-bee-like beeline. i get it. if you know exactly what you want, you can map out a plan to make it happen. what bothers me is that this doesn't take into account experience for the sake of experience. take the bees, for instance. they know better than the beeline. they pollinate all over the place—and sometimes they visit crops whose yields might not be better off for having known them. listen up, science daily. there's more than one way to be. to bee. or not to bee.

by the way, i told the girl i barely know that my goal is to unleash my inner hippie. hippies are happy and peaceful. if you want to believe positive stereotypes are any more applicable than negative ones, that is. i'd dispute the notion that hippies are any happier than anyone else. for me, "hippie" is merely (though not insignificantly) symbolic of freedom. living—not mournful for the past nor anxious for the future—in the moment. shaking off self-oppression.

in the spirit of freedom, i'll freely say that i think the guy with the good breeding dogs is an idiot. i think it's selfish and destructive when single parents don't weigh their dating choices against their children's best interests. i'm annoyed when vegetarians chastise meat-eaters. annoyed when meat-eaters chastise vegetarians. i'm irked when liberals attack conservative beliefs (ahem, lib-er-al. non-bee-like beeline, anyone?). i roll my eyes when conservatives say liberals are ruining america. cat people kinda weird me out. my nostrils flare when people feed their kids junk. racist remarks make me want to scream and tell people they're horrible and ignorant. if you post sacrilegious depictions of jesus, i'll think you're creepy. if you drink tea instead of coffee, i'll wonder about you.

i have to thank snickers for the opportunity to bring out my inner hippie. had it not been for him, i wouldn't have come across the dog-breeding idiot and refrained from calling him an idiot. and then i wouldn't have heard my inner hippie tell me that even hippies feel negative emotions and that i shouldn't be so hard on myself. my inner hippie says i don't have to be perfect but that i should be objective. she says it's great to know when it's productive to speak up and, better still, how. 

next time i see snickers, he's getting more than cheese puffs. he deserves a steak. i bet he's a pittsburgh rare kinda guy.

peace and kibble, y'all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


at the dining room table, the metal swirls in mom's fancy chairs are pressing against my aching shoulders. thirteen years ago, the physical therapist said my shoulder blades were "winged." i'd visit him once a week. he was handsome, as if he'd stepped out of a ken-doll mold. not my type. he smiled a lot, and his hair matched the light, faux wood of the cheap desk that held my first computer. it was in the living room of my second-floor apartment on willowdale road. i would've rather had it in the second bedroom, but it was kept locked by the rental company because i'd leased the place as a one bedroom. i picked the lock all the time, though, when friends wanted to stay or when i needed to keep my rowdy puppy contained while i was out. larry was the regular handy man at rachel rentals. he knew i used the second bedroom, i'm certain, but he never told. i talked to him like he was my old pal, and so we had an affinity. i think i even used him as a reference a year or so later, when i was trying to get another apartment and needed someone to vouch for kaiser; thirteen years ago it wasn't pit bull that turned off the landlords—it was dogs in general. i'd trade today's breed discrimination for plain old dog discrimination; at least the latter makes some sense. my wings ache tonight, and every night and day. a dozen-plus years ago, ken-doll therapist said it's where i hold my stress. can't i hold it in my hand, like a firefly, and set it free? 

 the light of this screen is the only illumination in the house. behind me, the door to the deck is open and i can hear the neighbor whistling for his skinny boxer, buster. a few months ago i told him buster was too skinny. he ignored me, unless you count his forgettable (literally) attempt at making it into a joke. the whistler doesn't like me much. i caught him in a lie once, and upon asking him why he'd say such a thing i found myself in a familiar posture: deflecting his attempts at deflection. i excel at dismembering the logic of rhetoric, and whether i choose to label that skill virtue or vice depends on how much time i want to devote to dismembering my own logic of a day. for a month or so, whistler didn't wave when i drove past his house on my way out of the neighborhood. he knew better. lately he's waving again, albeit less heartily than the old days. i don't hold it against him. i wave back.

as i sit, now with a heated wrap draping my shoulders, i hear only the crickets. it reminds me of lying in bed, in the room that is now my son's nursery, ten years ago, looking out the window into the same blackness that is behind me now, hearing the same lullaby. back then, i was fresh from heartache. tonight, i'm fresh from heartache, too. this time the pain doesn't reside in my heart. it's in my wings. they're not clipped, but surely bound. 

a friend told me today about new apartments being constructed at an old warehouse on the side of town where my dad grew up. he's renting a place there and said the whole vibe reminded him of me. reconstruction. resurrection. repurposing. all very me, indeed. that side of town is brimming with old warehouses. all that history. the unspoken stories. it's all vestiges of a heyday. decades upon decades ago, italian immigrants congregated in that section of town. glen elk, it's called, but i have no idea why. i should look it up. i will, because one day i'll write more about glen elk, for certain. i'll write about the grape arbor in my grandfather's backyard and the barrels in his basement; the linoleum floors in my aunt's house that i scrubbed, under strict supervision, first with vinegar and then with hot water; the small grocery under the apartments, where older-than-sin "aunt kakina" (was she really my aunt? i still don't know) sat, every day, all day, in a chair by the entrance. she spoke only italian, and her voice was the grindy hiss of a car when you accidentally start it twice.

one day i'll write more about glen elk, when the mood hits me. today i drove past those hip, warehouse apartments over there, and i wondered what will
come of glen elk in ten years. it could be a haven. revamped, rejuvenated, and ready to seduce the young, the ambitious, the creative. the ones who make places come alive. i hope that's the fate of glen elk, but the lure of what a decade might bring isn't enough to hold me down. all that keeps me here are
circumstance and a sore set of wings.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

the wait.

the danger of being your own best friend is becoming an expert at it. 

i was lying in bed last friday night when that thought dropped from above and swung back and forth in front of me, like the furry black spider did this morning on the front porch. i've been my own best friend on and off, mostly on, for about 18 years. i've always had close friends, mind you, but, for reasons of proximity and/or life circumstances, the time we've spent together has been chopped up into bits and pieces. i can't remember when it started, but i know it's been somewhere around a decade since i've begun to wonder what it would be like to have that friend—the one who is a sure thing. sure-thing friend is your go-to person when you want to go out for dinner or coffee, when you want to go vintage shopping in southside pittsburgh, when you want to check out that little artsy town in the eastern panhandle of west virginia you read about, when you want to sit on a porch and dip sweet-potato tortilla chips into your famous homemade guacamole and talk about how badly you need to paint your toenails before flip-flop season is nigh.  
she's painting her fingernails, waiting for something to happen ... listening to love songs, watching the clock on the wall ...
                                                                                          -bobby bare, jr.

most people have friends who come and go. it's pretty normal. it's pretty abnormal to spend years upon years knowing that i don't have one person who's a sure thing. for a while, the blame was simple and twofold: i was a tumbleweed and prone to linger on the edges of social circles. as such, it's difficult to cultivate a sure-thing friendship. as years have streaked by, the aforementioned blame has faded into obscurity and a new culprit has come into clear focus: settling. at some point, which itself is not pointy and therefore non-specific, people settle in. all you people. maybe it's after high school or college, or when you walk down the aisle wondering how they hell you're gonna pay for all those overpriced flowers, or when you shack up with the person whose worst habits are far more tolerable than saturday nights spent watching hgtv and eating homemade popcorn (the stuff in the bag will kill you, you know). i've watched you all over the years: you've picked pick a place on your timeline of existence and you've plopped down a down payment in suburbia or scraped together first and last + security in the city and you've called it life. in your settled-dom, you have cultivated whichever relationship is the most important, which is the one with your significant other. if it's not, it's with sure-thing friend, who by default becomes the bgh-free (that's bovine growth hormone-free, y'all) cheese to your gluten-free cracker. it all makes sense. i'd do it if i were you, too.

i'm encouraged, via statements both subtle and not, by my family members to think a man is what i'm lacking. i think "a man" would cure my boredom on weekends and my awkward only-single-girl-in-the-family role on holidays, and he'd be a real gem when i can't seem to grow that third arm that being a single mom sometimes requires, and i'd definitely appreciate his manliness really late at night when i imagine every sound is someone trying to break in. sometime in this past year i remember thinking that i talk about men so much and could it be possible that i'm suppressing a desire to have a big fat wedding with some great guy who wants nothing more than to take care of me? sure, possible if tradition or suppression of desire were my style. i can barely suppress a burp, which then prompts my mother to wonder aloud if i do that in front of men, which then spirals into a debate about feminism. it's funny how among feminists i am not one but in the company of my mother i become gloria steinem.

as much as i ponder my life with and without a man, i'm painfully aware that my mantasizing (that's man fantasizing, y'all) is a world away from my real-life fears about what it means to build a life in the direction of an "us." i might be mostly unsure of what direction my life is taking, but i'm damn sure that it can go in just about any direction i want. a girl doesn't have that option when she's hitched ... or hinged ... creak, creak, creak. give that girl some grease. she's all dried up. it's okay to not want that option, if you're anyone but me. i concede this: i venture to believe that when those blasted stars align, when i'm out of this town and in my own space and place and groove again, i might concurrently or shortly thereafter become less terrified of becoming an us. i might find that sure-thing friend, too. they might be one in the same. it's all up for grabs. the overall goal is to be less of my own best friend, 'cause my son speaks only a little english and some swahili or maybe portugese, and our conversation is at best choppy. i miss conversation.

my son hasn't had a conversation with any of my long-distance friends, who all live in various increments of hundreds of miles away from me. this is because none of them have come to meet him. it's hurtful, but my bag of letdowns to overcome is already full enough. plus, i take it as part of the reality of being single with friends who are not: i am wait-listed. the wait list is why i realized, courtesy of five bedtimes ago, that a single girl's dilemma is not the lack of a man but the lack of single friends. if i had a single friend who was far away, i bet she would've burned rubber getting here to meet my boy genius. and maybe she'd have stayed an extra night or two so we could eat guacamole and paint our toenails.

meanwhile, in real life, it's saturday night and i'm drinking pure cranberry juice cut with water while typing with a heating pad on my never-not-aching neckandshoulders. around 5:30 i thought i might take my boy on a dinner date, but i decided i should conserve money for a trip to the new water park this week, so we headed to the trail instead. there are two parks i frequent. they're similar in design: both have paved walking trails that go around soccer and little-league baseball fields. there's nothing interesting to me about jogging in brief, repetitive circles around other people's world. rushing home from work to get the kids onto the field and husbands with early mid-life crises and hulking sport-utility vehicles ... that's all their world. i could fit in, because i can fit in just about anywhere. but i don't want in. i want the world where being me—sarcastic, kinda conservative/kinda liberal, part joan jett/part woody allen, god fearing, everything questioning, lost in intellectualism one minute and crankin' 80s alabama the next—feels like a sigh of relief. that world is a work in progress, both in spirit and location. being able to fit in everywhere means not fitting exactly anywhere. it's neat and it's alienating all at once, and i don't know anyone else who experiences something similar. if i did, i suspect he or she would be my sure thing.

as it stands, my one sure thing went "nigh nigh" two hours ago and is now surely snoring in sweet surrender. he's charming, handsome, and smart, and i don't have much room for anyone else, but i'd squeeze in a great friend.

she could fix a cheese sandwich but someone might ask her to dinner ... so she's painting her fingernails, waiting for someone to call ...

Friday, May 17, 2013

dear memphis ...

a few days ago, a friend posted  this article about memphis on facebook.

the article's author used the now-successful, formerly-failing memphis grizzlies nba team as a catalyst for a discussion of the city itself. the article is a high five to the city's diehards and a middle finger to its haters. i couldn't help but see in it a reflection of my own convoluted emotions about memphis.

as i read the article, my opinions and recollections began to build up. i tend to visualize my thoughts, turn words into tangible things and such, and through this process i eventually landed on the image of memphis as termite's nest. it sounds bad, i know, but bear with me. if you've never seen a termite's nest, look up a photo. they're pretty fantastic. i saw a photo of a nest that was over six feet tall. termites are amazing architects, it turns out. their nests are incredibly complex, with parts above and below ground, connected by numerous tunnels and compartments. that's why i think memphis is similar. there's the memphis that's in plain sight: a city with a complicated history, a celebrated musical tradition, and a crime problem; there's the part that's underground: its beautiful parks, restaurant patios galore, and inspired grassroots movements; and then there's a complex community within that keeps both parts connected as a whole.

the grit and imperfections of memphis were what first intrigued me. i wanted to live somewhere different than the places i'd previously called home. (while exhilarating, south beach and nyc were never places i would call "homey.") i wanted a city that could reflect both who i'd become and where i came from. the south felt right. in memphis i envisioned a combination of big-city options and down-to-earth living. i imagined work that was plentiful and eclectic; live music pouring out of every barroom and living room; lazy weekend afternoons spent roaming my hip neighborhood; peaceful mornings on the coffee-shop deck and lively evenings on restaurant patios; handsome men with
rough beards, rough edges, and broken-in hearts. memphis turned out to be partly what i imagined, but—as my imagination can't be bothered with details—i wasn't prepared for the reality of the grit and imperfections that had initially seduced me.

i've been absent from memphis for nearly two years now. to me it feels like a lifetime ago, or it feels like last week; it depends on the day. regardless, my connection to the city is ever-present: i keep in contact with dear friends and with newer friends who would've likely become dear had i stayed. i get weekly emails from the memphis flyer. memphis weather is still on my iphone. until last month, my bank persisted in attaching my memphis address to my debit card. i still work with clients in memphis. my son has memphis in his blood.

the city has grown so much since i left. i see it mainly on facebook, with friends checking in at new restaurants, taking photos at events, and talking about what's on the verge. even in absentia, i feel happy for memphis. at the same time, i feel resentment, for it was in memphis that i embarked on the most frustrating social adaptation of my life. of all the places i've lived, none were as tormenting as the revered southern city hanging on the edge of the great mississippi. i've analyzed the social apparatus in memphis as much as i analyze anything that intrigues or irritates or inspires me—and that's a lot.

i've been mad at memphis for not changing. i wanted people there to be the same as people i grew up around: candid. forthcoming. honest even when the truth sucks. i wanted people to stop saying yes when they meant no; i wanted them to stop being disloyal to each other (because if they were doing it to each other, they surely were doing it to me); i wanted them to stop telling white lies about inconsequential things. i never got resolution of those issues. when i pulled onto sam cooper boulevard for the last time, i took with me the impressions—from liberating to bewildering—that memphis made. i left behind my mark on memphis, too, which i hope is a good one but i know is a malleable one, shaped according to the individual beholder.

only after reading that article last night did i finally get it: memphis is what it is. it's deeply flawed. intensely self-preserving. wildly charismatic.  it's in the south, where people will invite you to their parties even if they don't like you. i can't get down with that, but i don't have to, nor should it soil my overall perception. i love memphis for the many gifts it gave me. it's where my career flourished; where my beloved pit bulls were accepted and had in shelby farms a place they could run free and swim in a pond for the first time ever; where i met some of the most delightful, colorful beings; where i became a woman who could repair the baseboard chewed by her anxious foster dog, stay alone through holidays, and give the utility-company man bent on shutting off the power a run for his money; where my writing found its wings.

i grew up not exactly in the north but north of tennessee. i brought many pieces of west virginia with me to memphis, and while some of them didn't fit, i can't continue blaming memphis for a cultural divide. in a wide-lens view, my home state and my former home-away have more in common
than being a dot on the map of my life: each is a region of this country plagued by stereotypes and socioeconomic woes. and each remains fiercely proud in the face of disrespect. 

my apologies, memphis. i'm on your side. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

love, from art to artifice.

you're the kind of girl people write songs about.

said my friend, referring to me. she's right, too. there have been songs about me. and poems. and paintings. my ex-boyfriends were the perpetrators of these senseless acts of adoration.

why am i that girl? well, it's simple: art follows chaos (nearly exclusively so, in my estimation). and i am chaos. i want what i want with a burning, seething, impenetrable passion. i am equally as forceful in expelling from my life those things that i don't want. these two extremes make relationships into white-hot fireballs that eventually burn holes into the diaphanous drape that is love, until nothing is left but the ashes. in the afterglow, art rises up from the hearts of men. love, the magnificent phoenix.

there have been three men whose love for me was certain. not in the time i needed it to be or in the time they needed it to be, but certain as in verifiable at some point on the relationship spectrum, that point often being after the end. is it just me, my experience, or is the end of a relationship less of a resounding slam of the door and more like when the credits roll after a film? you know, where for all intents and purposes it's over, but you linger because you like the song playing in the background. or something. each of these three men said remarkable things: one told me i'm like a box of stars. another said, in retrospect, how he thought i shined when i walked into a room. the third, when asked when he'd like to take me on our first date, gave the most perfect response ever: yesterday.

my mom wants me to be married. i should try to be more patient with her, especially because what she doesn't know is that my aversion to the marriage conversation is purely practical, a way of avoiding explaining to her that no, of course i don't want to end up alone, but yes i am currently unwilling to be afraid enough of that prospect to do anything differently, and furthermore, i'm not convinced that doing anything differently will yield the commonly desired result of love-->marriage-->happily ever after. i'm not convinced that doing things my way is wrong. i never have been.

in all my years of traveling to places traceable both on a map and in the annals of my mind, i've met many people with smart and interesting and heart-wrenching things to say about love. relationships have been, like politics or a great brand of face cream, a topic of debate. not angry debate, just a lot of back and forth—is it or isn't it? should it or could it? that sort of talk. anyone i call a friend knows, if not in detail then in general, my magnum opus of failed relationships. it may not be a grand achievement to continually lose relationships, but it's more than grand to become something better than failure would have you be.

i am friends or at least friendly with every man i've dated, except for the witty singer whose path i never crossed again; the shallow, self-absorbed quasi-frat boy; and the silent wrecker. that last one, i was warned about. "he is the worst of the worst," one friend said. turns out she wasn't exaggerating. upon hearing his name, every.single.person. had a telling reaction: men would either smirk or scowl, and women would invariably respond with "i know alllll about him," because they or someone they knew had been involved with him. every woman in town had been involved with him, it seemed. he was a peculiar case; not your typical bad guy. not arrogant or mean, but negligent. abysmally so, as in merriam webster's definition 1c: immeasurably low or wretched. negligent in telling the whole truth, in being monogamous, in being grateful, and possibly in comprehending the grand canyon-like awesomeness of the hurt he caused. he had dire circumstances in life: "don't feel sorry for him. he'll do it to you, too," a few friends said. except i couldn't fathom not feeling sorry for him. i gave him so much rope he could've swung from here to eternity. some fools will hang themselves if you give them enough rope; others keep on swinging. my past with that man could torment me completely were it not for this: the grand canyon is both a product of destruction and a vision of magnificent beauty. it is infinitely better than the many failures through which it came to be. 

the other day, the theme song from the movie tootsie came on the radio. i picked up my son and twirled him around and around in the small space between the counter and his high chair. he threw back his head and giggled, those two big front teeth peeking out. we danced, while whoever sang "something's telling me it must be you/i've got a feeling it'll just be you/all of my life." as i swung and dipped and kissed my giddy little boy, those lyrics were inescapable, and all i could do is what i do best: i wondered, about who my you might/could/should be or maybe the only one i'll ever need is here in my arms right now. then i chastised myself for humoring the ulterior motives of a stupid love song. so on we twirled, me and the best dancing partner ever.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

the art of being.

you know how people say, "i'd give my right arm if i could only ... " well, i wouldn't give my right arm for anything. or my left. or either of my legs. but, i was thinking the other day, man, i'd totally sacrifice a toe if i could sing.

i was born with ten fingers and ten toes. it's hard to remember to be thankful for that, until you're writing about it. so in this moment i'm aware i should consider myself a lucky girl. my upper digits have bequeathed to me more abilities than i can list, like the ability to hold my first rattle; pick my nose; clap my hands; push my big brother when we'd play football in the living room and mom would yell at us to stop; write my name with my sparkle marker on my pencil box in the classroom of the second-grade teacher with the long-ish, sandy-blonde hair that was straight as point A to point B; do flip flops across the mat at phil hickman's gym, the original, tiny one in the neighborhood where i grew up; grasp the steering wheel of the red pontiac sunbird i drove at 17; turn the key of my first apartment in morgantown in 1994; strap on my roller blades so i could glide to work in south beach, miami; push the subway token into the slot on my way to work on gansevoort street in new york city; type my 30-page senior thesis for my BA in english; spoon frothy milk over two ounces of espresso at blue moose cafe; stroke the snout of my kaiser, then my phaedra, then my joker; hold a can of bud light or a mug of coffee on numerous patios and porches in memphis; pack and carry moving boxes 14 times between the ages of 18 and 35; stroke my baby boy's face for the first time; create blogs that help me organize my cluttered thought-closet.

to my lower digits i am grateful for things like balance and the ability to not look freakish in flip flops.

one of the above lists is clearly much longer than the other. that's what brought me to the conclusion that i could get by without a toe, if only i could sing. my mom can sing. my brother, too. dad sings in church, but he acknowledges the limitations of his skill. if i could sing, i'd feel like i was 50 feet tall and made of thunder and lightning. i know this because when i'm singing in my car, i'm transported to a place of being able to tear a teeny, tiny corner off the page of how the real thing would feel.

when i'm driving, my son gets an education. we listen to jeff buckley, john prine, steve earle, ryan adams, lucero, the replacements, the decemberists, sam and dave, avail, the pogues, george jones, and whatever else i can salvage from my shamefully battered cd collection or whatever is playing on my various pandora stations. i don't own an ipod. neither does keith richards. <—i read that in an article recently. i feel vindicated.

nowadays, i catch zion in the backseat "ahhh uhhhh ohhhh"ing along with the music. it won't be long before we're the best duo that ever traveled the streets of clarksburg. i hope when my son is older he'll play his favorite songs and feel the music from the inside all the way out, the way i do—not because i want him to be a reflection of me but because that feeling signifies a symbiotic relationship between one's self and the maker of the music. a harmonious connection between strangers. that's a rare thing. animals get it. humans, we're too complicated.

... and that's why we make music. why we design clothing and jewelry. why we write poems and fiction and nonfiction and creative nonfiction. why we paint canvases and make sculptures of wood or steel or ice. why we make films and take photographs.

ants don't make ant hills because they're angsty. birds don't make nests because someone broke their heart. they're compelled to do it by virtue of being what they are. in that sense, we complicated humans can relate.

Friday, April 12, 2013

scattering seeds.

here's the thing: i have no idea what i'm doing. i might know after i'm done. done has a very final sound to it, doesn't it. except it's full of exceptions. done can take 3.5 seconds or ten minutes or fifty years and six days. done can be a way of hedging, even though by definition it's not hedge-y. done is sometimes merely an adjective. or it's a bookmark, stuck there in your sentence until you revise your thoughts, moving the bookmark forward with other words—words that might negate or amend or altogether erase the doneness of what you previously said was done.

all in all, we are all in various stages of doneness. some of us are attuned to it. others aren't.

undoneness sits like a fat little grape on the vine, waiting to ripen or be plucked. or be squished. my grapes are often squished. i squish them, joyously or angrily or carelessly. a friend squished one recently. she made some comments along the lines of "well i know how you are about [certain subjects]," intending to imply something unsavory about the way i go about making choices. the passive aggression was merely an indication of her raw thoughts, which were clawing up from her gut toward her mouth but lost the lead to her more-polished-but-no-less-sour comments. plus, i knew from knowing her that she has no time for the trifles of my existence. but i always had time for hers. even when i didn't have the patience.

i had an epiphany years ago. it was when i lived in the guesthouse on nelson avenue in memphis. i was walking kaiser and phaedra around my neighborhood, cooper-young. the neighbor guy—i'll call him wally because he looked like a wally with his bald head and slight mustache and average stature—was probably arranging landscaping bricks or digging dirt in his front yard. he usually was. he'd smile and nod, and i'd smile and squeeze out a small hi. a few times we chatted about my dogs or his two labs, which were allowed to roam the front porch and yard because they came when called and were not perceived as a menace to society, unlike my two rabble-rousing pit bulls. on my last full day in memphis, i visited the farmers market downtown, and lo and behold there was wally, selling his homemade granola. i hadn't lived next door to him for nearly two years, but he remembered me. i didn't buy his granola. i felt kinda bad, but i was rationing my dollars. instead, i spent ten on a tee shirt from the dog-adoption booth.

after passing wally's house, i'd pass the next-to-next-door neighbors, the lesbian couple i only saw upon immediate exit or entry of their home. they had small-ish dogs that were only visible when i'd peer into their backyard through the black wrought-iron gate and a child (or two?) whose toys i'd see in the small front yard. near-phantoms, the five (or six) of them. we never exchanged words but would smile and wave, and i decided they were nice. then i'd pass by the house with no windows and then, on the opposite side of the street, i'd pass, with an inner scowl, the house of the woman with no common sense.

i was never friends with my neighbors on nelson avenue. i never knew any of their names, with the exception of wally, and he almost doesn't count because i can't remember his real name. i did entertain the idea of being friends with them—except wally, because although he was nice, he was 60-ish and married to the woman with brown, curly-ish 1980s middle-aged-woman hair, who may or may not have smiled at me in passing; and he had an adult son living with him, whose beat-up blue van moved from its parking spot maybe once in the four years i lived there, who spent all day in his room with the black curtains, listening to bad metal and eating beef jerky sticks. or something like that. actually, now that i think about it, i was walking in the opposite direction and didn't pass wally or the lesbians on the day of my epiphany. i passed the houses of the neighbors whose dogs and children and faces are completely unremarkable in my mind. i turned left onto tanglewood, and some time before i reached oliver street, which was only a block over, i realized being undone leads to judgment.

judgment is universally abhorred and universally practiced. the only thing that separates judgment from opinion is the fact that the former is always negatively received or perceived, while the latter can go either way. i don't have a problem with judgment. except when i have a problem with it.

here's the thing: i'm undone. i'm sorting. gathering. plucking. trimming. i can be held to a few, specific claims about what i want in life. otherwise, all the other words i toss around in conversation are nothing more than seeds, which will grow to become a plant or a flower or a weed, whose roots may or may not reach out like starving hands in the direction of the sustenance they need, whose shade will become green depending on the presence or absence of chlorophyll, whose flowers will stretch and awaken if the perfect amount of sunlight shines down at the perfect time.

some people surround themselves, either by default or desire, with people who are similar to them. i get that. it's hard when people don't get you. it happens to me a lot, especially now that i'm back in my hometown, where i feel not like a black sheep but maybe a purple-spotted one. overall, my world is packed tight with people of all sorts of configurations—religious, political, you name it. i feel generally loved and occasionally judged. about the latter: i'm an easy target. a lot of people i know, both friends and family, are further along in their doneness than me. i don't envy them. their lives would crush my spirit. just as mine would crush their spirit, or whatever it is that drives them. some people are driven by practicality or money, or they're guided by the unseen hand of circumstance. people who are settled are more prone to judgment. it makes sense but is no less frustrating.

lately, maybe as recently as last night, i decided to stop caring why you don't get me. whoever you may be. this goes against my nature, because i like for people involved in my life to understand my perspective. i'm still a little mad at my friend, at the part where she talked to me as if she were talking to anygirl rather than her friend, the girl whose soul she's supposed to understand and keep in mind when being a listener. of course "supposed to" is prescriptive and therefore unrealistic, so what's the point in holding her, or anyone else who doesn't get me, to that standard. i love my friends and family, whether they get me or not. good times and such aren't solely dependent upon similar mindsets. however, having those kindred spirits in life is magnificent. spending time with other creative souls makes me feel like i'm right up there with the sun. burning and bright. sustaining the entirety of my world.

in the real world, plants and flowers and weeds sprout and grow and live and die according to the type of soil, amount of rain, availability of food, and the angle of the sun. some of those factors are controllable but most aren't. i'm throwing out seeds every day. i'll know the right thing has blossomed when ... when i know.